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Hickenlooper ousts Gardner in Colorado, handing Democrats vital pickup

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperSenator's on-air interview features carpooling colleague waving from back seat DC statehood bill picks up Senate holdout Lobbying world MORE is projected to defeat GOP Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (Colo.), handing Democrats a key pickup.

Hickenlooper’s victory, projected by Fox News and MSNBC, brings the Colorado seat back into the Democratic column after Gardner rode a GOP wave in 2014 to defeat then-Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE (D) that helped hand Republicans the majority.

Gardner was widely viewed as the most vulnerable Senate GOP incumbent up for reelection. Gardner was one of two GOP senators trying to win a state carried by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC Hillary Clinton backs Manhattan DA candidate in first endorsement of year NSA leaker Reality Winner released from federal prison MORE in 2016; Colorado’s demographics have only become more favorable for Democrats since then.

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Gardner has said he did not vote for Trump in the 2016 election, but he’s stuck closely to the president over the past four years. Gardner voted with Trump nearly 92 percent of the time in the 115th Congress and more than 83 percent of the time in the 116th Congress, when the GOP senator was formally in cycle, according to the data website FiveThirtyEight.

Though Colorado has been a purple-trending-blue state for years, it has had at least one GOP senator for more than 80 of the last 100 years. With Hickenlooper’s victory, the state will have two Democratic senators, with Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetPast criticism of Trump becomes potent weapon in GOP primaries Hillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Senators introducing B bill to help narrow digital divide MORE up for reelection in 2022.

Hickenlooper, who served as governor of Colorado and mayor of Denver, secured an early lead in the polls after fending off a primary challenge from the left in the form of former state House Speaker Andrew Romano. Colorado is one of two seats currently held by Senate Republicans, the second being Arizona, that was ranked by The Cook Political Report as leaning toward Democrats.

A consistent string of polls in recent months showed Hickenlooper having anywhere from a high single-digit to a double-digit lead, making Democrats feel confident about their chances of defeating Gardner. Underscoring the Democratic optimism, Senate Majority PAC, the top Democratic super PAC, scrapped its $1.2 million television buy in the final weeks of the campaign.

Gardner tried, unsuccessfully, to nationalize the race by focusing on the Supreme Court fight over Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' McConnell sparks new Supreme Court fight McConnell signals GOP would block Biden Supreme Court pick in '24 MORE and the ongoing Democratic debate on expanding the Supreme Court. Republicans were hoping for a redux of 2018, when several Democrats who opposed then-nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMcConnell sparks new Supreme Court fight Supreme Court confounding its partisan critics Gorsuch, Thomas join liberal justices in siding with criminal defendant MORE lost.

But Hickenlooper largely sidestepped the issue, though he told The Denver Post in a statement that he was “not crazy about the idea of court packing.”